Background: Physical activity is associated with better physical and mental health in older adults. Pole walking is a form of walking which may have additional health benefits in older adults, because of the addition of hand held poles, and consequent upper limb involvement. However, few studies have examined the potential additional effects of pole walking on physical and psychosocial health in older adults compared with walking. The aim of this study is to compare the effect of a pole walking program with the effects of a walking program, on physical and psychosocial wellbeing, in older adults in assisted living facilities. Methods/Design: Sixty men and women from assisted living communities over 65 years will be recruited from senior retirement facilities and randomized into a group based, pole walking program, or walking program. The pole walking group will use the Exerstrider method of pole walking. Total duration of the programs is 12 weeks, with three sessions per week, building from 20 minute to 30 minute sessions.The primary outcome is physical function, as measured by items from the Seniors Fitness Test and hand grip strength. Secondary outcomes include, physical activity levels, sedentary behaviour, joint pain, and quality of life. All outcomes will be assessed before and after the programs, using valid and reliable measures. Discussion: The study will add to the evidence base for the effects of pole walking, compared with walking, on physical and psychosocial health and physical function, in healthy older adults. This will improve understanding about the feasibility of pole walking programs and its specific benefits in this population. Trial registration: Australian New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry ACTRN12612001127897.